A Texas jury on Friday ordered Alex Jones to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, a day after he was ordered to pay $4.1 million in actual damages for claiming that the school shooting was a hoax.
The two awards total nearly $50 million, well below the $150 million that parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis sought for the InfoWars hosts assertions that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, Conn., was fabricated. Their six-year-old, Jesse Lewis, was killed in the shooting.
I am asking you to take the bullhorn away from Alex Jones and all others who believe they can profit off fear and misinformation, plaintiffs lawyer Wesley Ball said during closing arguments Friday.
I suggest to you to return a verdict that is proportionate, Jones attorney Andino Reynal said during his own closing, asking jurors to order just $270,000 in punitive damages. Youve already sent a message. A message for the first time to a talk show host, to all talk show hosts, that their standard of care has to change.
Fridays unanimous ruling closes the two-week trial in Travis County, Texas.
This case can be a bellwether case for future settlement cases, Holly Davis of Kirker Davis LLP, a trial attorney in Austin who assisted the plaintiffs attorneys with the case, said. Future lawsuits and litigants can look to the jury award in this case to help them determine the range of awards juries are giving plaintiffs.
Fridays damages are punishment for Jones statements, while Thursdays damages were meant to compensate the parents for economic and noneconomic damages like emotional distress.
In Texas, there are statutory limits on punitive damages, with a per-defendant cap of two times the amount of economic damages, plus the amount of noneconomic damages found by the jurythe latter part not to exceed $750,000.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th District Court in Travis County may reduce the punitive damages given those caps, and Jones attorneys said immediately after the verdict that they would file a motion to reduce the punitive award.
We do not believe punitive damage caps are constitutional as applied to our case and will certainly litigate that issue if necessary, Mark Bankston, one of the plaintiffs attorneys, told Bloomberg Law.
Jones and InfoWars parent company, Free Speech Systems LLC, were co-defendants in the case.
The trial was shocking at times, including when Bankston told Jones earlier in the week that his defense team had accidentally sent the plaintiffs lawyers a record of previously requested text messages.
Immediately after the Friday ruling, Bankston said he would seek sanctions against Jones attorneys for their handling of evidence and their conduct at trial.
Reynal said hed tell the court which communications he would seek to reseal, and Gamble said she would set a hearing on those motions.
Jones conceded under oath earlier this week that the massacre was 100% real. He also admitted that it was irresponsible of him to declare the shooting a hoax.
The defamation case vindicates Jesses memory, Ball said during closing arguments on Friday.
The court already determined in a 2021 default judgment that Jones was liable for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Farrar & Ball LLP represented the parents. Reynal Law Firm PC represented Jones.
The case is Helsin v. Jones, Tex. Dist. Ct., No. D-1-GN-18-001835, 8/5/22.
With assistance from James Nani
To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Miranda in Houston at [email protected]
(Updates with comments that plaintiffs attorneys would seek sanctions against Jones counsel beginning in 13th paragraph.)